Written by Mitsuyo Utsugi, Nature Digest Managing Editor
At the online award ceremony held in July 2021, the scholarship students expressed their desire to contribute to society through the power of science. Despite the hardship that the two PhD students are facing, a strong sense of hope was expressed by them.
There are many students wishing to deepen their studies and contribute to society through the power of science despite their extreme financial difficulties. Springer Nature Group in Japan called for applications for the “Julius Springer Scholarship” from February to May 2021. The scholarship targeted Japanese university students who are continuing to pursue and realize their dreams in the midst of financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. In July 2021, the Group announced the selection of two students as the Julius Springer Scholarship students, Ms. Yuno Suzuki (third year PhD student in the Graduate School of Pharma-Science, Teikyo University) and Mr. Ryosuke Shimada (first year PhD student in the Graduate School of Mathematical Sciences, the University of Tokyo). Both scholarship students were each granted an award of €12,500 to contribute to the costs of their education.
Antoine Bocquet, Managing Director of Springer Nature in Japan, expressed his hopes for the two scholarship recipients, saying, “It is amazing to see their sincere attitude towards learning, strong recommendations from their mentors, and their great efforts made to date to open the way for their research under adverse conditions.” With respect to the applicants for the scholarship program, he said, “No one is to blame for the circumstances they are placed in,” adding that he wished to grant the scholarship to all of the applicants if possible.
At the award ceremony, Ms. Suzuki spoke of her ambition, saying, “I was able to encounter this scholarship fund, especially because it was during this coronavirus crisis. My research in drug delivery systems helps enhance more effective use of existing drugs, instead of developing new drugs. I would like to advance medical care through this research.”
Ms. Suzuki was a top performer throughout the six years of undergraduate education and graduated from Teikyo University with the highest honor. Professor Ryo Suzuki of Teikyo University’s Faculty of Pharma-Science, who instructed her since her fourth year at university, provided a recommendation, where he gave high appraisal for her redoubled efforts to acquire a broad array of knowledge and skills, saying, “She possesses innate qualities as a researcher with excellent communication and problem solving capabilities.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Shimada expressed his thoughts on receiving the scholarship, saying, “My research began with an interest in prime numbers, while majoring in arithmetic geometry. This discipline includes proposals towards the Fermat conjecture and the ABC conjecture. It is a great honor to be granted this scholarship from Springer Nature. More than half of the foreign books on my bookshelf are published by Springer. I would like to keep studying hard to advance Japan’s science.”
Associate Professor Yoichi Mieda of the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Mathematical Sciences, who is Mr. Shimada’s mentor, provided a recommendation for Mr. Shimada that he excels in his academic performance and has received an award from the Dean of the Graduate School of Mathematical Sciences for his master’s thesis. Regarding Mr. Shimada’s personality, Dr. Mieda said, “He tackles difficult tasks with enthusiasm and possesses patience as well to continue doing so without giving up easily.”
The call for scholarship applications has been supported by the Research University Consortium (RUC) and the NPO Cheiron Initiative, both of which are based in Japan. Dr. Amane Koizumi, Project Professor of the Research Enhancement Promotion Headquarters National Institutes of Natural Sciences and a representative of RUC expressed encouragement towards the two scholarship students, mentioning that education and research are important in this difficult time and will be the most powerful force for humanity. On behalf of the Cheiron Initiative that supports researchers and their families, Dr. Takeya Adachi, Founder and Vice President, NPO Cheiron Initiative and Research Assistant Professor, Keio Frontier Research & Education Collaborative Square (K-FRECS) at Tonomachi, Keio University delivered his message to the students saying, “I hope the students will focus on various encounters across other countries and disciplines that will lead to their own serendipities.” Dr. Adachi has experienced an overseas stay as a researcher together with his family, and this led him to set up the NPO along with Ms. Haruna Adachi, President of Cheiron Initiative.
Julius Springer, the founder of publisher Springer, also had some hard times during his early life. He lost his mother immediately after his birth. As his father was in poor health, Julius dropped out of Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster, an integrated junior to senior high school in Germany, before he turned 15 and began working as a bookstore apprentice. The charity fund bearing his name was founded in Germany in 2004 to support people who are in need of help through no fault of their own or for specific reasons and are unable to escape this situation by their own or outside means. Currently, the fund is engaged in a wide array of support activities in Germany and other countries or regions where Springer Nature is operating.
One of such activities is the “Julius Springer Scholarship Program” which selected Japan as a target country for 2021. Japan was previously selected in 2012, when the scholarship was awarded to three high school students hoping to advance to university, all from the Tohoku region hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Financial hardship faced by PhD students
In 2021, two graduate students enrolled in their postgraduate course were selected as the scholarship students. Japanese PhD students are in dire financial straits even though they are important human resources who will play a central role in the future. The university enrollment rate hit a record high of 54.4% in Japan in the 2020 academic year, which started from April 2020 to March 2021. However, the proportion of students proceeding to graduate schools has been declining since peaking at 15.9% in 2010, sinking to 11.3% in 2020. The rate of graduate students advancing to the PhD program after completing their master’s course stayed around 17% until 2000, but has fallen below 10% at present (1). This is in sharp contrast to European and American countries as well as China, where the number of graduates obtaining doctorate degrees is increasing (2).
One of the major reasons for graduate students choosing not to proceed to the PhD course is clearly the financial burden that is too heavy for them to bear. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP), 16.5% of graduates who completed the master’s program in 2020 had debts of more than three million Japanese yen (ca. €23,000) each.
In the U.S. and Europe, 90% of PhD students, as research assistants (RAs), receive sufficient salaries to cover their school and living expenses. On the other hand, in Japan, more than half of the PhD students do not receive any salary. Even when given salaries as RAs, they earn only a few tens of thousands of yen (a few hundred euros) per month. The postdoctoral path to employment is severe, with around 70% managing to find jobs, and more than half of those are hired as fixed-term university employees. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in Japan, having a sense of crisis about the current situation, announced in December 2020 that it would work to expand financial support for graduate students seeking to obtain a PhD degree.
We all look forward to Ms. Suzuki and Mr. Shimada’s careers as researchers, and are delighted to be of help of them to open their future. We hope that many researchers will be nurtured in Japan and make their way in the world.
1. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) “General survey on schools – FY2020 summary of results (in Japanese)”
2. National Institute of Science and Technology Policy “Japanese Science and Technology Indicators 2020”
Original post in Nature Digest (Japanese)
Mitsuyo Utsugi is a managing editor of Nature Digest based in the Tokyo office. Through Nature Digest, she is working to revitalise Japanese researchers and encourage the public to trust science.